So very sad.
A friend of a friend killed himself today. I didn't know him, but I know he leaves behind a wife and two young children. He was a professing Christian, which makes his loss particularly tragic.
In a way, the faith we're told can save us from ourselves... couldn't. Not mortally, at least.
Suicide has been erroneously called an unpardonable sin, because it involves the willful destruction of God's creation of life by the very benefactor of that creation. But although suicide is bad, and may be a combination of sin or the result of sinful thoughts, it's not unpardonable. The Bible tells us that the only unpardonable sin is denying what the Holy Spirit teaches about Christ. In other words, when a person dies without ever professing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, they've committed the unpardonable sin.
Everything else in which we believers in Christ fail Him, including suicide, is pardonable through His grace.
That doesn't necessarily take away the pain of loss, though, does it? Or the confusing aftermath of suicide? Loved ones are usually left with so many unanswered questions and guilt that it's easy to become angry. However hard it might have been to work through the problems that precipitate a suicide, those left behind to mourn a suicide victim's loss face an even more difficult path to some semblance of healing and reconciliation with their new reality.
Couldn't we have worked this out somehow? Surely alternatives existed!
I once attended the funeral of a college student who killed himself, ostensibly after an argument with his girlfriend. Some cryptic messages were discovered later, but nothing definitive regarding the victim's precise reasoning. As I sat in the church sanctuary that day, I stared at the overflow crowd numbering close to 1,200 and wondered how somebody with this many friends and family members could feel so utterly alone and destitute.
A few years ago, I attended the funeral of a bubbly, energetic older man who had become a millionaire through his own entrepreneurship. He'd had an eye for seeing the untapped potential in offbeat products and obscure industries. Speaking of untapped potential, he had once offered me a job in one of his businesses. A couple of years after that, however, some final engineering tests determined his latest and greatest product would not work the way he'd hoped it would.
He was already rich, influential, well-loved, and respected. A longtime believer, he was a church elder, Bible Study Fellowship leader, and Prison Fellowship volunteer. But it wasn't enough. He was so distraught that what he'd hoped would be his grand legacy had been deemed unworkable, he gave up. Literally.
His funeral was standing-room-only, too, only not with fellow college students, but with business executives and local politicians; a crowd just as unused to suicide in their accomplished ranks as young adults so full of anticipation for the future.
While I don't remember much from the funeral homily for my college student friend, I distinctly remember the sermon at my older friend's funeral. Grappling with how to summarize the profound discrepancy between a life and faith so apparently well-lived and such deep discouragement despite it all, the pastor came to a remarkable conclusion.
This suicide victim had won the war, but lost the battle.
Indeed, our friend was now in Heaven with Christ, but his own demons that had been so well-hidden from most of us were more powerful than he realized.
Which begs the question: in a moment of weakness, who among us can say with complete confidence that we could spurn our darkest enemy? Who doesn't have a so-called Achilles heel, whether it's hereditary, an acquired habit, a chemical dependency or deficiency - but something that we learn to hide exceptionally well from just about everybody? Maybe, even, sometimes... ourselves?
We cloak it with tenacity, hard work, or a cheerful disposition, no matter how forced. We train ourselves to be amazingly productive and even self-sacrificing. We tell ourselves that people with a stronger faith conquer these foes. Or, we blatantly ignore them.
And yes, maybe a stronger faith proves victorious for many folks. But what about those folks who science suggests have a chemical imbalance that undermines even the staunchest faith or the most determined will? Those who may not even realize their vulnerability, because no doctor has ever diagnosed it?
Yes, our faith surely will save us. Which is an eternally good thing, because sometimes, our bodies won't.
How we share our grief over those who lose that battle, however, is something experts tell us is best done more in silent kindnesses than chatty platitudes. Not just because what we say while trying to be helpful may actually be ineffective. But because crises like these tend to hold an unwieldy, disturbing paradox.
They can remind us of our own vulnerabilities.
Particularly when we ordinarily like to think we don't have any.